Interesting exchange in the Post-Gazette chat today:
Red Hot Ed Ott: It seems to me that the Coonelly/Huntingdon plan is only as good as the scout's ability to evaluate talent. Can you tell me what the perception is around the league of the Pirates scouting department?
Dejan Kovacevic: It is probably right to separate the plan from the execution when discussing what the Pirates are trying to achieve.
The plan itself is very popular among people around baseball, especially as it has related to the draft. But the execution to date, particularly the higher-profile trades, has not been.
That comes down to evaluating talent. It always does. But it also could include having a mindset of always trying to hit a home run rather than settling for singles and doubles once in a while. What I mean by that is high-risk pitching acquisitions that seem to be the Pirates' target most of the time. They prioritize arms over actual pitching.
Doing that when picking up people like Hayden Penn or, as a positive example for a while there, Tyler Yates, that's fine. But making trades for them is dangerous.
I'm not ready to say any of this is wrong, just that it doesn't quite square with the way I see things. All pitching acquisitions are high-risk. The Pirates plainly do like the type of pitcher who has good stuff but has weaknesses in other areas, and Kevin Hart was probably one of those. But a lot of their acquisitions in those areas have been free-talent types of acquisitions, like those of Penn, Yates (who came in a very minor trade), Denny Bautista, Donnie Veal and Evan Meek. Craig Hansen is another pitcher of that type who came in a trade, but he was a throw-in.
Most of the pitchers the Pirates have gotten in trades, like Daniel McCutchen, Jeff Karstens, Brett Lorin, Hunter Strickland, Casey Erickson, and Aaron Pribanic, really don't have that profile. A team that trades Freddy Sanchez for Tim Alderson, a very advanced, polished pitcher who keeps walks off the board, isn't really trying to hit the lottery--Alderson was regarded as a potentially good big league starter at the time of the trade, but not an ace. The trades actually represented a balance of relatively unpolished, high-upside pitching prospects, and polished, lower-upside ones. The common denominator is that they involved pitching prospects, who are inherently high-risk. Given the lack of pitching depth in the Pirates' system and the players they were trading, though, I think that acquiring a bunch of pitchers was defensible.
One telling detail about all of this is that when the Sanchez/Alderson trade was announced, most of the Giants' smarter fans flipped out. I don't know which "people around baseball" Kovacevic is talking to, but I do know that most front-office types would have been unwilling to part with a bunch of great prospects for what the Pirates were offering, and this is the part of the trades that I think a lot of angrier fans (and perhaps also these "people around baseball") miss. I'm going to wait to see if this continues for a month or so before I do a full-blown post about this, but lots of the players the Bucs traded have already seen their stock decline considerably, and in ways that were predictable. As others here have pointed out: Sanchez is hurt. Nate McLouth is currently hitting eighth in the Braves' order. Xavier Nady is a bench player. Not only were these players not very good to begin with, but many of them were also nearing the ages when injury and decline became more and more likely. The expectations fans had for Neal Huntington in those trades were simply too high.